Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Biz to Biz ethics concerns

Got a press release in from the American Society of Business Publication Editors, which says a survey of its members, who work for publications targeted at businesses instead of a general audience, shows they are concerned about the ethics in their business at a time when there's more pressure to bend the rules.

Roy Harris, senior editor of CFO magazine and the society's president, says those pressures include product placement and "activities among journalists at reputable news organizations that are questionable at best.” The organizaton is getting ready to overhaul its ethics code.

Almsot 60 percent said their publications had codes of ethics. But when you break the numbers down further, it gets to be dismaying. Of those who said their publications had codes, 37 percent said they were formally adopted (while 42 percent said they were informal, what the society defines as an "ethical editorial environment").

And of those where a code was formally adopted, 64 percent said their organization "backs them up and buys into the code." For those of you playing along at home, that's .59*.37*.64 = about 14 percent of those with codes have formally adopted them and back them up.

The other numbers are a little squishier, but as near as I can figure a little over a third of the places that "lack a code" also take ethics seriously. That would bring us to a total of about 48 percent overall where society members see ethics being taken with some seriousness.* When less than half of your profession is doing that, you have a problem.

About one in five -- 22 percent -- has seen ethical problems among editorial staff. Ninteen percent said they had seen ethical problems with the publisher.

The types of problems were wide-ranging, the organization said, from blurring the line between editorial and advertising to employees' owning stock in companies that advertise (though one wonders these days, with 401(k) plans replacing pensions, how you avoid that and still be broadly invested -- it's an issue we're all probably going to have to deal with. I'd be more concerned if they owned stock in companies they cover; at least the ones advertising are paying for it).

The following is direct from the press release -- a good disclosure of method and cautions:

Some 360 business-to-business magazines have ASBPE members. The survey invitation was sent via SurveyMonkey to each magazine’s highest-ranking editorial staff member who belongs to ASBPE. Responses came from 157 members (representing 157 magazines), a 43.6% response rate to a long 39-question online survey.

While the results of this survey are not valid for the entire population of business-to-business editors, it is a solid picture of how ASBPE members feel.

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*For those of you who have your slide rules out, here's the math on that. The organization's online story says: "Among editors whose publications lack a code, 53% said their company backs them up or buys into the ethical editorial environment. All the remaining 47%, however, said that is only sometimes the case." The release and story do not define "lack a code," but Robin Sherman, the association's executive director who wrote the release, says he means those organizations that totally lack a code and those that have only an "ethical editorial environment," but no formal code. That totals 66 percent -- 41 percent without any code and about 25 percent where a code is informal (.59*.42). Take 53 percent of 66 percent and you get 34 percent. Add the previous 14 percent and voila, 48 percent total.

The numbers are squishy, however, because while the society says 59 percent have a formal code or an ethical environment, the breakdowns of that do not add to 100 (37 percent formal codes + 42 percent informal ethical environment is only 79 percent; nothing is given on the remaining 21 percent in that category).

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